The Hero Must Be Proactive

The quickest way to make a boring story is to forget the number rule of storytelling: the hero must be proactive. That means whatever happens, the hero must take steps to make things happen. 

In good movies, the hero is always in control of his destiny. He or she may not know what to expect, but the hero always decides what to do and takes action to change the world. 

In “Star Wars,” Luke decides to chase after R2D2. Then he decides to leave Obi-wan to rush back to his uncle’s farm, only to find that his aunt and uncle are dead. That causes Luke to decide to go with Obi-wan to deliver R2D2 to Princess Leia’s planet.

Luke is always proactive. Now examine bad movies and you’ll see they violate this basic principle. In “The Sisters Brothers,” two hit men in the Old West are hired by a man called the Commodore to track down a scientist who has stolen a formula for finding gold. 

Halfway through the story, the hero of “The Sisters Brothers” decides not to kill the scientist but to work it him. When the Commodore sends more hit men to kill the hero, the hero decides to go back and kill the Commodore. 

However when he arrives, them Commodore has died. Rather than the hero killing the Commodore, the story cheats the audience. The hero does absolutely nothing and his problem gets solved. That creates a boring story.

The hero must make all the decisions to drive the story forward. In “Star Wars,” Luke decides to leave with Obi-wan after seeing his aunt and uncle dead. Yet in “Mortal Engines,” the hero doesn’t make any decisions of his own. Instead, the villain pushes him off a ledge so the hero makes no decision of his own.

Later in “Mortal Engines,” the hero is captured by slave traders. Rather than escape on his own, a new character magically pops up and rescues him. Once again, the hero does nothing to move the story forward, which results in an unsatisfying story.

Always make your hero proactive. Make your hero choose and act. Active heroes are interesting. Passive heroes are boring and dull. If things happen to the hero, then you’ll wind up with a dull and boring story much like “Mortal Engines” or “The Sisters Brothers.”

If you haven’t heard much about either movie, it’s because they were dull and boring, and ultimately forgettable. 

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